By Rob Davies
Mental health services and homelessness among costs of ‘hidden addiction’, says GambleAware and IPPR study
Problem gambling costs the UK up to £1.2bn a year, according to a report that its authors say should serve as a “wakeup call” to the government.
The report, commissioned by charity GambleAware and written by the IPPR thinktank, charts the costs associated with problem gambling, such as mental health services, police intervention and homelessness.
It comes with the gambling industry facing increasing scrutiny, including a government review of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – often dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling due to their addictive nature.
The IPPR said the largest costs were racked up in the health service and the welfare and criminal justice systems, which even the report’s most conservative estimates pitched at £260m.
The £1.2bn highest estimate compares with the £2.6bn that the Institute of Fiscal Studies says the industry contributes to the exchequer every year.
Campaigners said that even the maximum estimate could still be too low, because it did not take into account the wider economic impact on employers and families.
Dr Simon Tanner of GambleAware, a former NHS director of public health for London, likened the report to groundbreaking studies of alcohol-related harm. “I hope that this report kick starts the conversation about gambling-related harm in the same way,” he said.
Craig Thorley, a research fellow from IPPR said: “For many, problem gambling is a hidden addiction. This should be a wakeup call to government. We need a proper strategy to deal with this issue, just like we’ve had for other public health issues such as alcoholism.”
The report identifies groups of people who are particularly at risk of becoming addicted to gambling and suffering harm as a result. People aged 16 to 24 are least likely to gamble, but those in that age bracket who do so are more likely to develop a problem. Men are five times more likely to become addicted to gambling than women, while those in the lowest income bracket are least likely to gamble but most likely to develop a problem.
Up to 1.1% of the adult population are believed to have a gambling problem, according to the report, with the prevalence higher among homeless people, the unemployed and black or Asian people.
Marc Etches, the chief executive of GambleAware, which receives donations from the betting industry, said: “Problem gambling is an issue which affects millions of people across Britain each day. GambleAware is keen to put problem gambling on the public health agenda, as it’s no different to any other kind of addiction.”
The industry’s own efforts to police the problem have met with criticism, while a string of sanctions handed down by industry regulator the Gambling Commissionhave increased the pressure on politicians and industry leaders to combat addiction.